Eleven-year-old Tyler Paquette’s family is facing a dilemma. Tyler’s father was seriously injured when the tractor he was riding overturned, pinning him underneath; in fact, if Tyler had not been there to call 911, he might not have survived. As it is, he is unable to perform any work on the Vermont dairy farm that has been in the family for generations, and he might never fully recover. It appears that Tyler’s dream of growing up to take over the farm one day might never be realized: his older brother is beginning college and his teenage sister has absolutely no interest in farm work, and he cannot manage all the chores alone. Without enough hands to run the farm, it might have to be sold.
Enter the Cruzes, a Mexican family of migrant farm workers: three adult brothers, one of whom is married with three daughters. To the Paquettes, they are angels; to many others, they are illegal immigrants (except for the two younger girls, who were born in North Carolina). As the family takes up residence in a trailer on the property, Tyler has mixed feelings: he is grateful for the help, but confused about many things. When he finds out that Mari, the oldest sister, is his age, why must he keep her background a secret at school? Is it right to hire people who entered the country illegally, and can his family get into trouble for doing so? What do loyalty and patriotism really mean? As Tyler gets to know Mari and her family, and finds out she shares his interest in astronomy, he learns that not everything is drawn in black and white.
As for Mari, she is facing her own challenges. When the Cruzes were living in North Carolina, her mother suddenly returned to Mexico because her own mother, Mari’s Abuelita, was dying. When Mama attempted to return to the United States months ago, she disappeared. Mari has written long letters to her mother in the hopes that if she reaches North Carolina, she will know where her family is—but her father, fearful of being discovered by La Migra (Homeland Security), convinces her not to send them. Through Mari’s letters and entries in her diary, we learn of her desire to be strong for her father and little sisters (and act in her mother’s stead), her fears that any day they might be caught and deported and that the little girls are too American to fit into life in Mexico, and her growing attachment to the farm and the extended Paquette family.
This thought-provoking novel will attract anyone who enjoys stories that deal with serious issues and strong family relationships. The use of Spanish words feels natural, and some Americanisms are cause for humor. It is sure to be useful as a discussion-starter on the themes of patriotism, undocumented aliens, loyalty, and the meaning of family. 336 pages. Ages 11-14
Recommended by Barbara Karp, Librarian.
Return to Sender by Julia Alvarez is the story of 6th-grader Tyler, whose parents hire an illegal immigrant family to work on their farm when his father is injured, and Mari, the daughter of one of the workers. The young people share an interest in astronomy, and both grow, change, and discover themselves as the events of the story unfold. A gem.
Also, from Basya Karp, Librarian